U.S – Kerry Inc., a firm that produces food and ingredients, has pleaded guilty to a charge that it produced breakfast cereal in an unclean environment at a Gridley, Illinois, factory that was connected to a salmonellosis epidemic in 2018.

Kerry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of distributing contaminated cereal advertised as Kellogg’s Honey Smacks in accordance with a plea bargain that was filed alongside criminal information in federal court in Peoria, Illinois.

The business also consented to forfeit U.S$ 19.228 million in addition to paying a criminal fine.

The U.S$19.228 million punishment and forfeiture, if the guilty plea is accepted by the court, will be the highest criminal penalty ever imposed after a conviction for a crime involving food safety.

“Consumers depend on food manufacturers to take appropriate steps to ensure food safety. The Department is committed to holding accountable those who fail to meet this obligation,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, Head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

According to the criminal information, Kerry supplied Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after producing it under unsanitary conditions.

The plea bargain states that multiple incidences of Salmonella were identified in the environment at the Gridley facility during tests conducted as part of Kerry’s environmental monitoring program.

Routine environmental tests found Salmonella in the factory about 81 times between June 2016 and June 2018, with at least one positive Salmonella sample every month.

Employees at the Gridley factory consistently neglected to carry out corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs) to resolve positive Salmonella testing, according to the plea bargain.

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared in June 2018 that an ongoing salmonellosis outbreak in the US could be linked to Kerry’s Gridley-produced Honey Smacks cereal.

As a result, Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled every Honey Smack produced at the facility from June 2017.

More than 130 cases of salmonellosis with sickness onset dates starting in March 2018 were finally connected to the outbreak by the CDC. The CDC did not record any fatalities connected to the outbreak.

The court set a March 14 sentencing date for Kerry.

“Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that food manufacturers have a critical responsibility to produce and sell food that is safe for American consumers to eat.

“We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who put the public health at risk by allowing contaminated foods to enter the U.S. marketplace,” said Assistant Commissioner Justin D. Green for the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.

In healthy individuals, salmonellosis can result in symptoms including diarrhea, fever, and cramps that last for several days.

Salmonellosis can cause serious dehydration, even death, in infants, young children, the elderly, transplant recipients, pregnant women, and anyone with compromised immune systems if it is not treated promptly.

In a separate matter, Ravi K. Chermala, who served as Kerry’s Director of Quality Assurance from September 2017 to September 2018, earlier entered a plea of guilty to three misdemeanor counts of inducing the entrance of contaminated food into interstate commerce.

Chermala was in charge of the hygiene initiatives at the Gridley factory and other Kerry manufacturing facilities.

As part of his plea agreement, Chermala acknowledged giving orders to subordinates between June 2016 and June 2018 not to alert Kellogg’s about specific problems at the Gridley site.

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